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Pioneer helps world see citys through green eyes - Globe and Mail

January 29, 2005
Anthony Reinhart
Globe and Mail

The sunlight that fills Robert Kerr's office high above Nathan Phillips Square would tempt any Torontonian to bask in it; all the more if they knew what the place was.

It's the global headquarters of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, and, long before anyone had heard the words "Kyoto Protocol," it was leading worldwide efforts to cut greenhouse emissions.

The fact that it's based in Toronto is enough to swell even a cynic's sense of civic pride -- until you descend to the city hall parking garage, where the few vacant spaces are hard to find behind the flatulent gas-guzzlers that fill the rest.

Talk about a case of disconnect.

As an ICLEI director, Mr. Kerr is first to admit more could be done to enlighten Torontonians locals to the city's stature as a green pioneer. Who knows -- maybe a well-placed jolt of pride would bolster their resolve to leave the car at home a little more often.

It was here, after all, that the world's leading experts convened for a landmark climate-change conference in 1988, catalyst for the signing of an international convention in Rio in 1992, which in turn spurred the Kyoto accord of 1997.

Toronto was also the first jurisdiction on the planet, in 1990, to commit to a numeric reduction in greenhouse emissions: 20 per cent from 1988 levels by 2005 (since extended to 2010). Known as the "Toronto target" everywhere but here, it is now emulated, in varying degrees, by 650 cities around the world.

"It amazes me how little I hear about the Toronto target in Toronto," says Mr. Kerr, who hears the term often on his frequent trips overseas. "It's not widely trumpeted."

True, efforts to meet the target have fallen short. While Toronto's municipal operations have actually beaten the 20-per-cent goal, the wider city has managed a cut of about 5 per cent, officials say.

Still, that places Toronto ahead of most world cities, Mr. Kerr says, noting the cut was achieved despite steady growth.

It's also well ahead of Canada as a whole, whose Kyoto pledge is to cut emissions by 6 per cent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

With the Kyoto agreement set to become international law on Feb. 16, Canada still produces 20 per cent more greenhouse gases than it did in 1990.

Perhaps the rest of Canada could learn a few things from Toronto's myriad programs, from incentives for landlords to retrofit apartments, to turning landfill methane into electricity, to using lake water to cool offices downtown.

All the same, signs of disconnect abound, from the clogged city hall parking garage, to the exhaust-choked drive-throughs of the suburbs, to the hulking SUV in your neighbor's driveway.

Clearly, more can be done, depending on how far we're willing to go, and how far we'll let our leaders take us.

Mr. Kerr prefers evolution to revolution, convinced that "public
engagement," not big-stick regulation, works best at the local level.

"If the city were to announce a penalty for SUVs tomorrow, I can assure you there wouldn't be much of a change," he says.

Instead, there would be a "big backlash" played out in the media, and few new converts to the cause.
More effective, he says, are initiatives such as Mayor David Miller's
new roundtable on the environment, where experts of varying backgrounds
will hash out ideas that have practical potential.
With that in mind, The Globe and Mail solicited the following ideas and
ran them by roundtable chairman and veteran city Councillor Joe
Pantalone for a reality check:

* The more your car pollutes, the more you should pay for parking, says Keith Stewart, a
campaigner for the Toronto Environmental Alliance.
"The thinking behind it is excellent," says Mr. Pantalone. "The only issue is whether there is the technology" to modify the city's ticket
dispensers. If so, it could be a go.

* Build more dedicated transit lanes for streetcars and buses, as outlined in a recent TTC plan, Mr. Stewart says. "Anything is possible with money," Mr. Pantalone replies, adding the familiar refrain that upper-tier governments need to pony up, or give cities more taxation powers.

* Retrofit all low-income housing for energy efficiency,with new heating systems, windows, doors and insulation, Mr. Stewart suggests.

"That is happening and it can be speeded up," Mr. Pantalone says, adding that the rebuilt Regent Park housing complex will incorporate green measures.

* Make rooftop solar water-heating units mandatory on buildings that receive enough sunlight, as Spain did last fall, Mr. Stewart suggests.

If the city can secure new powers from the federal and provincial governments, it could pull this off. Until then, it's "educate and negotiate," Mr. Pantalone says.

The city is also pushing rooftop vegetation as a way to cool buildings and the air around them.

* Include deep-lake-water cooling in all waterfront redevelopment, also from Mr. Stewart.

"That, too, is an obvious one," Mr. Pantalone says, referring to the city-supported system, launched last summer, to air-condition downtown offices with Lake Ontario water.

* Toughen the city's anti-idling bylaw, says Eva Ligeti, executive director of the Clean Air Partnership, a charity affiliated with the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, a city agency that fund clean-air projects.

The bylaw, enacted in 1998, includes a $130 fine for idling a vehicle more than three minutes. After 10 seconds, you're wasting fuel, so Ms. Ligeti suggests shortening the allowable time.

Says Mr. Pantalone: "We need to enforce it to begin with."

Few charges are laid because the city has so few bylaw officers.

* Install more cycling lanes, or better yet, make Richmond Street a bicycles-only thoroughfare, says Mary Pattenden, director of climate change for Pollution Probe.

The city's existing plan to add bike lanes could be more aggressive, Mr. Pantalone says. But a bikes-only Richmond Street? No way.

"That kind of a solution, I'm afraid, is simplistic, and if that was put in effect, it would probably do more to set back the idea of bicycle lanes," he says. "Richmond is not generally where people want to go, and it's not where they're coming from."

* Ban drive-through restaurants, says Glenn Gumulka, an environmentalist from Sprawlsville, Ont., a.k.a. Mississauga.

Mr. Gumulka was pleasantly surprised to hear that Hazel McCallion, Mississauga's development-friendly mayor since 1978, now wants the fast-food industry to address idling problems at drive troughs.

Ms. McCallion might find inspiration in a 2002 Toronto bylaw banning new drive-throughs within 30 meters of residential areas, upheld by the Ontario Municipal Board last year after McDonald's challenged it. The ban came after neighborhood protests over the burger giant's plans to build a drive-through at 710 St. Clair St. W.

Mr. Pantalone doubts Toronto could beef up the bylaw without new legislative powers, "but I think we should have it, because we should be able to ban those things."


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